Citroen C4 Cactus review
The Citroen C4 Cactus features bold styling cues and a high-tech interior, plus a comfortable ride
On the face of it the Citroen C4 Cactus is just another compact SUV following in the footsteps of the highly-successful Nissan Juke. However, the Cactus conforms to a less-is-more philosophy with the focus on reducing running costs and weight, and more emphasis on comfort than sharp handling. Similar in size to a C4 but based on C3 underpinnings, the Cactus features bold styling cues and a high-tech interior with two screens instead of the usual cluster of buttons.
It might be named after a spiky plant, but the Cactus is soft and soothing to drive with the focus on creating a relaxing environment, rather than razor-sharp handling. Citroen has stripped away around 200kg compared to a C4 hatch which means the Cactus feels light on its feet, the three-cylinder petrol engines punch harder than the figures suggest and the cleanest diesel engine returns an incredible 91.1mpg.
The clean surfaces are broken up by Airbump panels – a first in any class – which are not only a design feature, but protect the paintwork for dings and scrapes. In the name of saving weight, the folding rear bench is a single piece and the rear windows pop-out instead of opening, but the use of a seven-inch touch screen to control all the air-con, infotainment and vehicle function means the interior feels far from basic.
A choice of manual or ETG automated manual gearboxes are available, with a choice of six different engines – four petrols and two diesels.
Our choice: Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 110
One thing’s for sure, the C4 Cactus is a car that embraces the brand’s quirky past, and its proportions are starkly different to its rivals here. While the raised suspension is similar, the low roof, long wheelbase and rounded nose give the C4 Cactus a unique look.
The front end takes some inspiration from the C4 Picasso, with high-set LED running lights, while the main lights are part of large plastic housings, and the air intakes are positioned low on the nose. Further back, the rounded wheelarches feature plastic extensions, and behind this
the sides of the car incorporate one of its big talking points – the Airbump panels.
This rubberised plastic cladding features air pockets that help to minimise car park dings. It’s available in four colours, depending on body colour, while the plastic cladding front and rear matches the Airbump panels. At the rear, the flat tail features a large slab of plastic across the tailgate, which is a good thing, because it would look rather plain without it.
Other design highlights include the substantial roof bars, while the optional red wing mirror housings and C-pillar stripes add a bit of colour.
Those C-pillars look thick from the outside, although they don’t spoil over-the-shoulder visibility. Our car’s combination of Shark Grey metallic paint and gloss black wheels isn’t the best colour available, but there are a variety of shades on offer, and buyers are able to personalise their cars to a fair extent.
Inside, the Cactus takes inspiration from the DS range, and features a stylish design that has a premium feel. There are asymmetric air vents on the centre console,
a top-opening glovebox, luggage handle-inspired door pulls, a seven-inch touchscreen and a smart looking oblong readout ahead of the driver. The seats are comfortable, although the driving position is surprisingly low, so the Cactus doesn’t feel like a crossover at the wheel.
The C4 Cactus is offered with a range of small-capacity petrol and diesel engines, and the 99bhp 1.6 BlueHDi is at the top of the range. While 99bhp may not sound like much, Citroen has managed to make the Cactus 200kg lighter than the similarly sized C4 hatchback, and the car’s performance is reasonable, rather than electrifying. We also managed 0-60mph in 11.3 seconds
On the road, the C4 Cactus is a relaxing cruiser. The suspension does an okay job of ironing out rough surfaces, although big bumps do tend to thump into the cabin. The soft suspension also means there’s a bit of roll in corners, too, although it’s nothing too drastic, and there’s decent grip.
On country roads, the Citroen is enjoyable, and it’s quieter than either of its rivals at motorway speeds, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a letdown in town. The main culprit is the five-speed gearbox, as its widely spaced ratios mean you have to do a fair bit of forward planning, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong time.
This would be fine if the gearshift was positive, but the lever is spongy, so shifting feels like a chore. However, the C4 Cactus
has sharp brakes, and came to a halt far quicker than either of its rivals here.
Citroen’s vision for the C4 Cactus was to remove anything that wasn’t entirely necessary, so with pop-out rear windows, fewer buttons on the dash and no adjustability for the gearbox, steering and engine mapping, there’s less that can go wrong.
That said, the Cactus still retains most of the kit you’d expect from a thoroughly modern family car, including automated parking, a reversing camera, hill start assist and cruise control. Another by-product of cutting 200kg compared to the C4 hatch is that consumables such as the brake pads and tyres should function better for longer. Based on a stretched version of the DS3’s platform, the Cactus is built around proven technologies and components, but repackaged in an exciting new way.
The simplification process has also cause the Cactus to score a disappointing four out of five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, with a low score in the safety assist category - the Nissan Juke fares much better in this regard.
While the C4 Cactus is a new model, it shares a lot of running gear with other Citroens. It sits on an extended version of the DS3 platform, while the standard touchscreen is similar to the one found in the new Peugeot 308.
There are new petrol engines across the Citroen and Peugeot range, and the BlueHDi is based on existing diesel technology, so should be reliable.
Safety is also a strong point. The C4 Cactus has yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, but it comes with six airbags, hill start assist, tyre pressure monitors and electronic child locks for the back doors. Citroen came 26th in our most recent Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, while its dealers finished 27th in 2013.
Although it doesn’t explain its calculations fully, Citroen claims that the C4 Cactus will cost around 20 per cent less to run than a traditional family hatchback. The Airbump feature could potentially save you money on having small scratches and bumps buffed out, while the lack of weight saves cash on tyres and brake pads.
The most fuel-efficient model is the BlueHDi 100, which uses ultra low rolling resistance tyres to achieve an incredible 91.1mpg and CO2 emissions of just 82g/km. The petrol engines aren’t far behind either with even the most powerful PureTech 110 three-cylinder turbo returning a claimed 60.1mpg and 107g/km, while covering 0-62mph in a sprightly 9.3 seconds.
Citroen is planning to offer a number of all-inclusive purchase packages too that combine a finance payment and insurance costs into a single monthly figure.